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Obedience to God Requires a Community

And you shall rejoice in all the good that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you. Deuteronomy 26:11 ESV

As I’ve noted elsewhere, it’s impossible to keep God’s instructions outside the context of community. How can you love your neighbor, if you don’t have any neighbors, after all?

And you shall rejoice in all the good that YHWH your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.
Deuteronomy 26:11

Selecting Today’s Firstfruits Offering

This instruction is given in the context of harvesting in the Land of Israel after each man has received his inheritance. Most believers, including native-born Israelites don’t live in the land, and nobody in the land today has possession of his ancestral land. Most people–no matter where they live–also don’t have land from which they are harvesting any produce, so the command doesn’t directly and literally apply to anyone today. However, this command, like all others in Torah, is a reflection of God’s character. The principle that underlies the command, therefore applies to all believers in all lands and ages.

All productive labor–and all able-bodied people ought to be employed in some kind of productive labor–has a “firstfruits”, although it will look very different, depending on what you are producing. An hourly or salaried employee might consider the first portion of each check, or the wages of the first month in the fiscal year as his firstfruits and dedicate that to God. An artist might donate his first painting or sculpture and a general contractor could give a portion of the profits from the first project of the year.

Torah doesn’t give explicit commands for these things, so I don’t think anyone can tell you exactly how to determine and select your firstfruits if you aren’t a self-employed farmer. I’m sure that some ancient writers have expounded on this topic at great length, and there are probably entire books written on it more recently, but nobody gets to add to God’s Law. Ultimately, how and if you select your firstfruits is between you and God.

Giving of Your Firstfruits

Having determined what your firstfruits are, what should you do with them? There is no Temple where you can take a basket of fruits and vegetables. Even if there were, without some direction from Messiah, I’m not confident that it would be legitimate, and it would still be much too far for most of us to visit.

Fortunately, this same command provides some guidance here too: “You shall rejoice…you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.” And the following verses, vs12-15, say that the agricultural tithe every third year is to be shared with the Levites, sojourners (landless and potentially destitute), orphans, and widows in your own community.

When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled…
Deuteronomy 26:12 ESV

You do live in a community, don’t you?

Maybe you don’t have Levites (almost certainly no Levites who are functioning in a Biblical capacity), but unless you’re living in the wilderness far from people, you probably have poor or oppressed people, widows, orphans, and the sick somewhere near you. Who lives near you, needs help of some kind–even if it’s just a friend–and can’t pay you back?

God’s character, as evidenced by the commandments he gave to ancient Israel, is to bless those who bless others who can’t return the favor. But you can’t bless people who don’t exist. Living according to God’s Law, living as Jesus lived, requires that you have a community of some kind and that you know something about the people in your community.

It can be difficult for some of us to connect with other people–and I don’t say “us” idly–but we need to make it happen. Talk to people, ask about their lives, tell them you care, and then invite them for a celebration in God’s honor.

One of the best parts of God’s plan for supporting the disadvantaged, is that God said you get to use part of the tithes and offerings that you owe to him for throwing a party, so long as you include his favorite people, those who don’t have much to offer you in return.

But you can’t do that unless you know who those people are in your local community. You don’t have to live in a city; you only need to live near other people, and you need to have enough of a relationship with them that you can invite them to join you at your home or at a park.